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UK Immigration News – The Illegal Migration Bill

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In the words of the UK government, ‘enough is enough’ and that’s the message that the government was giving loudly this week with its announcements on the Illegal Migration Bill.

Our immigration solicitors take a look at what we know so far about the government’s plans to curb asylum seekers.

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The controversial changes for asylum seekers

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has announced a new Illegal Migration Bill to reduce the number of asylum claimants arriving in the UK with the particular target being those who arrive in small boats across the English channel.

It is Ms. Braverman’s case that unless the Bill becomes law up to 100 million asylum seekers could qualify for refugee status or asylum in the UK. If the Bill does become law in the UK, then it will place a duty on the Home Secretary to detain those arriving in small boats and other asylum seekers who enter the UK using irregular or non-legal means, such as arriving in the backs of lorries after traveling through what are deemed to be ‘safe’ countries where asylum could have been claimed.

Just as important as the duty to detain and remove within 28 days, the government Bill constrains the current legal rights of asylum seekers to appeal against removal decisions or to bring human rights claims and challenges.

As an added disincentive to trying to seek refuge in the UK, the government has said that once you have been removed from the UK under the terms of the new law you are banned for life. No second chances if you turn your life around in a third country, meet the skills eligibility criteria for a skilled worker visa or start-up visa, and want to come to the UK to reunite with family members, work hard to build a new life, and pay UK taxes to contribute to the UK economy.

Initial reactions to the illegal migration Bill

Immigration solicitors and charities working with refugees and asylum seekers have been swift to condemn the government Bill saying the provisions are both open to legal challenge and unworkable as a deterrent. In addition, they argue that desperate people will still flock to the boats in search of a better life.

Here is a summary of some of the points being flagged up by immigration solicitors:

  • The government says if the Bill is passed into law the law will be backdated to avoid people rushing to the UK before the Bill becomes law. That means you could be detained and removed (subject to any available legal challenges on the legality of the Bill) even if you arrive in the UK before the Bill became law
  • The new provisions in the illegal migration Bill will work alongside the government‘s intention to overcome the legal challenges to its plan to send people to Rwanda. The Home Secretary said the current asylum system costs the British taxpayer £3bn a year. She did not answer the suggestions of critics that the costs could be significantly reduced if asylum seekers were allowed to work legally in the UK whilst waiting for their claims to be processed. A right to work and income would not only offer dignity but the chance for asylum seekers to fill some of the many UK job vacancies and enable them to contribute to UK society and taxes and to find and fund their own accommodation
  • There will be some exceptions to removal (for example, children under 18 or the seriously ill who are medically unfit to fly or those at real risk of serious and irreversible harm) but commentators question how this will work in practice with age testing of child claimants or children being encouraged to say that they arrived in the UK on their own so that they can stay even if other members of their family can't do so. In addition, if the bar is set so high what chance does a claimant have to show that they are at real risk of serious and irreversible harm in the country they are being moved to when the government has already decided as a matter of policy that a country like Rwanda is safe and when their human rights and appeal rights are being curbed? The government’s answer is that any appeals allowed to proceed can take place in the country where the asylum seeker has been removed to. Flippantly, will this mean opening branch offices for UK immigration solicitors in Rwanda and countries like Albania (where despite being deemed safe around 60% of applicants are granted some form of refugee status often following allegations of modern slavery or human trafficking)
  • Whilst the Home Secretary has said she is confident that the Bill is compatible with international law, and the UN Human Rights Convention others, including human rights lawyers, strongly disagree so challenges are expected in the UK courts, in much the same way as the challenges to the UK deportation policies and Rwanda scheme
  • Some allege the Bill is xenophobic and racist, a criticism that the UK government strongly refutes but others will question the difference between being a refugee in Syria or a war-torn African country to being a Ukraine citizen able to flee Ukraine to find safety in the UK whether the applicant for the Ukraine scheme is in the immediate war zone in Ukraine or whether they have always lived in a region close to the Polish borders and are therefore currently reasonably safe

Whatever the arguments for or against the Bill, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made it clear that the Bill is a top priority for his government. He has said "Since becoming Prime Minister, I have made the issue of illegal migration one of my top five priorities – pledging to stop the boats once and for all. Illegal migration is not fair to British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade. I am determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats. So, make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay."

The prospects for the success of the Bill becoming law and the legal challenges it will face if it does from charities, immigration solicitors and human rights lawyers is for another day. In the meantime, if you need asylum, human rights, or immigration law advice act now.

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